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Cablegate: Ambassador's August 26 Farewell Call On President

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.






E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Ambassador's August 26 Farewell Call on President
Tran Duc Luong

1. (SBU) Summary: During a farewell call on President Tran
Duc Luong, Ambassador Burghardt noted the great progress in
bilateral relations in the past 10 years, in particular the
expansion of normal relations in a number of new areas
during the past three years. Nevertheless, many tasks
remained, including better cooperation in counter-narcotics
and intelligence sharing. As the 10th Anniversary of normal
relations approached in 2005, Vietnam sought to join the
WTO. There were a number of steps in areas ranging from
human rights to commercial policies that could help Vietnam
expand its circle of friends at this critical juncture.
President Luong replied that US-Vietnamese relations had
reached a new stage. The Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA)
had been critical; under the BTA, trade had expanded "beyond
imagination." The GVN considered cooperation with the
United States as vital to its development strategy, and
Vietnam wanted to work with the United States to make 2005 a
success. Prime Minister Phan Van Khai planned to visit the
United States in 2005. Luong added that he looked forward
to talking to President Bush at the APEC summit in Chile
later this year and to receiving the President in Hanoi for
APEC in 2006.

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2. (SBU) The Ambassador took the opportunity to ask the
President to consider the request for clemency for American
Citizen John Hung Nguyen, recently sentenced to death on
drug related charges. The President said that this could be
considered in the context of four amnesties for prisoners
that would be forthcoming between September 2, 2004, and
September 2, 2005. End Summary.

3. (SBU) Ambassador Burghardt, accompanied by DCM, paid a
farewell call on President Tran Duc Luong on August 26. The
Ambassador noted that he had served in Vietnam for two
periods of almost three years each, separated by 28 years.
During the present period he had seen tremendous change and
improvement in US - Vietnamese relations. He thanked the
President for his leadership in this. His predecessors at
the Embassy had done an excellent job establishing what was
then a very new relationship. In the last three years
considerable progress had been made in making this a more
normal relationship as we moved beyond a heavily commercial
emphasis to other areas, including significant military-to-
military ties, humanitarian issues, a special HIV/AID
program and educational and cultural exchanges. However,
there were still tasks for his successors to work on in the
future, such as greater cooperation in law enforcement and
intelligence exchange. The Ambassador was looking forward
to working on Asian affairs in the future and returning to
Vietnam, a country that would always have a special place in
his heart. Finally, he passed Luong a copy of the
congratulatory message from President Bush on the occasion
of Vietnam's upcoming national day.

4. (SBU) President Luong thanked the Ambassador for his
remarks and the message from President Bush. Vietnamese
leaders attached great importance to US relations, which had
reached a "new stage" in the past 10 years. Just as the
previous US Ambassador had made a tremendous effort,
Ambassador Burghardt and his staff had made a great
contribution toward establishing fully normal relations. In
particular, Vietnam realized the critical importance of the
Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA). Since signing this
agreement, trade had expanded "beyond imagination."
Investment had grown sharply. A recent visit of the
US/ASEAN Business Council had shown the keen interest of US
business in ASEAN and in particular Vietnam. He was
confidant that trade and investment would be fruitful in
coming years. He was delighted with developments in
culture, education and scientific exchange. Study in the
United States was especially attractive to Vietnamese
scholars. Cooperation with the United States played an
important role in Vietnam's development strategy. The
Government had decided to buy Boeing aircraft, for example.

5. (SBU) Looking to 2005, the President said both
governments should work together to plan events to celebrate
the 10th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Given the
special US-Vietnamese history, it had been only a short time
since we began to work to improve relations. If we
continued to work, respecting independence, sovereignty, and
mutual benefit, we would be successful. Economic,
scientific and technical relations were very important, and
social and cultural relations provided the foundation for
this. Vietnam respected other nations' social policies and
asked that others respect Vietnam's choices. If this were
done, differences in views would not be a major problem.

6. (SBU) According to Luong, high-level exchanges of visits
were very important; the visit of President Clinton was
still remembered in Vietnam. Prime Minister Phan Van Khai
expected to travel to the United States in 2005. President
Luong said he would like to meet President Bush at APEC in
Chile. He asked that we convey this to the Department, and
added that he looked forward to receiving the President in
Hanoi for the APEC summit in 2006. He again thanked the
Ambassador for his work over the past three years and hoped
he would continue to contribute to improving bilateral

7. (SBU) The Ambassador said that he would deliver these
messages to Washington, where he would be next month. 2005
would be especially important for US-Vietnam relations. We
too were thinking of events to mark the 10th Anniversary of
normal relations. The Ambassador said he had suggested to
the Foreign Ministry actions that both countries could take
to ensure the Prime Minister had a positive visit to the
United States. The year 2005 was also important in terms of
Vietnam's WTO accession. The US Administration would have
to ask Congress for permanent normal trade relations (PNTR)
prior to accession. Based on the example of China, this
would be an occasion for many to focus on the overall
relationship. Vietnam would be under scrutiny from both
friends and critics. It was a good time for Vietnam to take
specific actions in areas ranging from human rights to
commercial contracts to widen its circle of friends. In
particular Vietnam should do more to improve relations with
the Vietnamese community in the United States. Vietnam had
taken some positive steps in this regard, but there was
still a lot of work to do.

8. (SBU) Ambassador Burghardt said that there was one
specific issue that he wanted to raise. This concerned the
power of the President to commute sentences and the case of
American Citizen John Hung Nguyen, recently sentenced to
death for narcotics related crimes. We did not debate that
he had committed crimes, nor did we take issue with the
death penalty in general. However, in this particular case
it seemed that the death penalty was quite severe relative
to the offense charged. The Ambassador said he also was
concerned that the Vietnamese-American community would react
very strongly, charging that Vietnam had singled out a
fellow "Viet Kieu" for unusually harsh treatment. This
would not help the mood in 2005. Mr. Nguyen had already
sent a letter to the Vietnamese President requesting
clemency. The Ambassador said he was raising this because
looking after US citizens in trouble always had to be the
number one responsibility of any ambassador.

9. (SBU) President Luong agreed 2005 would be important for
relations. He said Vietnam had noted the US decision again
to vote for normal trade relations this year. He welcomed
support for Vietnam's accession to WTO - the US voice was
very important. Turning to the subject of clemency, Luong
said that, from the September 2 National Day this year to
September 2, 2005, there would be four occasions to grant
amnesty. (Normally there were three occasions per year.)
Next year the scope of the amnesties would also be greater.
The President would be able to grant amnesty to prisoners
who had demonstrated good behavior and could reintegrate
into the community. The Foreign Ministry had informed
Embassies and Consulates of the opportunity for amnesty. As
for this particular case, the time until September 2 was too
short. However, the Embassy should follow up with the
Foreign Ministry during the first trimester following
September 2, 2004. It was important to know, however, that
the President did not have the authority to completely
commute a death sentence, but only to reduce it. If John
Nguyen's death sentence were reduced to life or some other
term and the United States agreed to "take him back," this
could be considered. (Note: The President did not elaborate
on this.) The Ambassador thanked the President for his
response, noting that he had a very heavy responsibility.
He said we would follow up with the Foreign Ministry.

10. (SBU) President Luong again expressed his appreciation
for the Ambassador's service and for his understanding of
Vietnam's long history. The Ambassador thanked the
President for Vietnam's hospitality.

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